The other day M and I took a friend’s elderly relative to a mass at the lovely Redemptorist Monastery in North Perth (or more accurately the church on the Monastery grounds). As I have recounted previously my communal Christian endeavours have been largely Liberal Catholic or Anglican. It’s been a while since I was at a Roman Catholic Mass and I guess I had “expectations”. This is always a problem.
The first thing I noticed was a large roll-down screen at the front of the apse displaying a PowerPoint presentation. You can just see the edge of it in the top right of this picture. They tried to make it fit in with a nice wooden top-piece but really it clashed a bit with the sacred architecture. The screen proceeded to have sections of the liturgy displayed upon it throughout the service as well as lyrics to modern songs that were sung by a live band off to the side. Much to my relief there wasn’t a karaoke style bouncing ball over the lyrics or Words of Institution (“…this is my body which will be given up for you”). But I reckon this was only because of technical limitations.
These songs struck me the most about the Mass. Based on older hymns and parts of the traditional Mass they were very lovely and emotional, not at all fevered like some of the Evangelical tunes. They did however give a very different feel to the liturgy. We even sung them during the Preparation of the Gifts and the Fraction, which for me is one of the most mystical parts of the Mass.
Other elements of the Mass were wonderful, such as linking hands in a communal chain while praying the Lord’s Prayer (or ‘Our Father’ as the Catholics call it). Overall though I couldn’t irreverently help recalling the advert on the Simpsons episode, “Sunday Cruddy Sunday“.
[Thanks to Fox‘s scouring of the net this video may disappear, so this synopsis just in case:
A lone blue automobile drives down a deserted road. When it reaches a tiny two-pump gas station, a man steps out. Seeing no one else around, he beeps his horn. The door to the station pops open; three minimally-clothed young women step out as ZZ Top’s “Legs” plays, sans vocals. After a bit of posing and wiggling, they go to work cleaning and gassing up his car, until the man notices a cross hanging down in the cleavage of the blonde. A voice-over says, “The Catholic Church. We’ve made a few … changes.“]
While not approaching the tradition of the Buddy Christ, this new Catholicism is a bit too happy-clappy for me. Of course all traditions, all liturgy changes. They have to – even if there was a piece of contemporary liturgy unaltered for 1500 years, the social, cultural and psychological makeup of the laity itself has changed. Hence the liturgy would mean something different to a congregation now in 2009 than it meant in 509. This one of the reasons why liturgy, like tradition is dynamic not static. As we change, it changes to meet us and being based on sacred revelation it is, at any point in history, our doorway to the One.
It is the directing agency for the changes in liturgy and tradition, not the changes themselves that need careful examination. Is the change directed by the tradition and its sources (the One) or by the institutional and personal concerns of the Church and the priesthood? These questions apply equally to the Golden Dawn and the western magical tradition as it does the Church? Are the new manifestations of the Golden Dawn complete with changes such as astral and self-initiation directed and birthed into being by the inner sources of the GD (the Secret Chiefs)? Or are they directed by the conscious and unconscious needs and desires of individual Orders and adepts? I don’t know. But we do need to think about these things before instituting any change to tradition.
As I said I’m a bit behind the eight ball regarding contemporary Christian worship – the Liberal Catholics who I worshipped most with are reactionary to say the least. Not being in communion with Rome they have not undergone the transformations begun with Vatican II. For example, the priest still faces away from the congregation. A wiser commentator, Fr Gregory Tillett, years back commented on the decline of Christian religion in the west:
“The real explanation [for the decline], I suggest lies within the Christian Churches. It is the Churches, no less than society as a whole, which have become increasingly secular. … This is seen, for example, in the form of services. The secularisation of liturgy has led to Church services which involve nothing of the mysterious, the numinous, the inspirational. These services are performed in buildings often largely indistinguishable from town halls or convention centres. Preaching focuses on social action, pop psychology, or vague platitudes about being good and showing love.
Many people, particularly younger people, have sought to meet their spiritual needs in that wide range of movements covered generally by terms like New Age, Neo-Pagan, eastern or esoteric, many of which often consciously replicate the characteristics of traditional Christian religion. To take the example of worship again, many of these groups employ elaborate rituals, emphasise mystery, offer clear and specific teachings, and impose obligations of conformity to particular codes of behaviour. The very things which, so many churches claim, young people in the modern world will not accept, and have therefore abandoned.”
Last Sunday with the songs, live band and PowerPoint I saw what by Fr. Tillett was on about occurring within a Catholic Church belonging to a very established and venerable order. This is not to decry or criticise the Mass which was very beautiful in many ways. I do though believe this approach only satisfies part of our spiritual needs. By focusing on appeals to the contemporary fashions and tastes – the songs, the PowerPoint, obscuring the mysteries of the Fraction etc. – the liturgy then focuses on the higher personal, the Netzach or Yesod experiences. It may even hinder the Tiphareth experience, that of the Higher consciousness, the sphere of Christ within ourselves. This is similar to the experience of the various forms of music I outlined in this post. That won’t stop me going back again this weekend though. 🙂